Russell Moore is replacing Richard Land as the public face of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been a long-time ally in Al Mohler’s fundie/GOP/creationist/hierarchical insurgency in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Like his mentor, Mohler, Moore is every bit the culture warrior that Land has been, but he’s a full generation younger. That means he brings a bit more social-media savvy and a bit less of Land’s grumpy-old-white-guy vibe. The difference is a bit like the contrast between Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan — similar views substantively, but the younger man lacks the older man’s palpable discomfort at the presence of others who are not part of the old-white-guy club.
Richard Land, you’ll recall, wound up getting a slap on the wrist last year for embarrassing Southern Baptists with his ugly, old-school racist commentary about slain teenager Trayvon Martin. It only got worse when it turned out that Land’s rant was plagiarized from a disreputable right-wing newspaper columnist. Russell Moore may agree with every point of Land’s anti-feminist, anti-gay, anti-science, anti-modern culture-war agenda, but he at least recognizes that one shouldn’t say things like that in public in the 21st century. Moore also appreciates that plagiarizing commentary isn’t something you can get away with in the age of Google.
Moore’s promotion is a triumph for his old general, Al Mohler. Mohler is delighted to have one of his lieutenants taking over this high-profile position in the SBC. For Mohler, this is a final piece of his consolidation of power in the denomination — one last triumph in the Republican coup he began 20 years ago when he first started seizing control of denominational institutions, purging them of “liberals,” women, moderates and Arminians.
For an inadvertent example of what Moore brings to the table that Mohler lacks, just consider Mohler’s attempt to incorporate a pop-culture reference into his praise for this appointment:
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said Moore — who had been head of the seminary’s theology school — is “unabashedly committed to the same convictions” as Land but uses newer cultural skills — including Twitter.
“It’s the difference between Mad Men and The Office,” said Mohler.
I think Mohler was trying to say that Moore will be more hip and contemporary than Land, but I don’t think comparing him to Michael Scott really conveys that.
Nor is it really helpful for Mohler’s cause to point out that the Southern Baptist Convention today really is exactly like a hybrid of Sterling Cooper and Dunder Mifflin.
But hilariously awkward comments like that aren’t the biggest problem Mohler has recently created for his old sidekick Moore. The far larger problem is that shortly after Moore accepted leadership of the SBC’s “ethics commission,” Al Mohler turned around and put the denomination on record as a defender of church leaders who abuse children.
And unlike Mohler’s gloriously botched attempts to make “relevant” cultural references, that’s not funny at all.